British Columbia, a province in Canada, enjoys a rich endowment of bountiful, high quality water resources. This resource, and the many diverse uses it affords British Columbians, emphasises the need for efficient resource management.

In recent years, declining fish stocks has emerged as an important issue for the area, along with concern about water management. Considerable attention has been placed on the relationship between fish and power generation at hydroelectric facilities, with environmental groups calling for greater protection of fish resources. As a result, Federal and Provincial governments are now taking a stronger stance on the management of fish habitat, particularly at power facilities around the province.

In November 1996, the Ministers of Employment and Investment (now known as the Ministry of Competition, Science and Enterprise), and Environment, Lands and Parks (now the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection) announced the creation of a water use planning process, developed to revisit provincial water management in light of changing public values and environmental needs.

In February 1999, the Provincial Government issued the Water Use Plan Guidelines. These guidelines set out the components of a new process to better manage British Columbia’s water. The development of water use plans (WUPs) for power and other water control facilities will be carried out as part of the licensing procedures of the British Columbia Water Act.

Flexible design

According to the guidelines, the water use planning process is designed to be flexible enough to meet the needs of different facilities and operators. It is not intended to be unduly onerous for small operators, or for facilities with minor water use conflicts. The extent of effort at each step will also be adapted to suit the particular circumstances of each facility and operator.

Following recent elections in the province, won by the liberals, the responsibility of WUPs has now been passed to a newly formed ministry, the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. Under the ministry, WUPs will be developed through a consultative planning process involving the existing or prospective licensee, government agencies, First Nations, other key interested parties, and the general public. Draft plans will be submitted to the Comptroller of Water Rights for regulatory review and approval. The overall goal of the process will be to achieve a better balance between competing uses of water that are socially, environmentally and economically acceptable to British Columbia.

But what exactly is a WUP? Briefly, a WUP is a technical document that defines the detailed operating parameters to be used by facility managers in their day-to-day operations. Plans are intended to clarify how rights to provincial water resources should be exercised, and to take account of the multiple uses for those resources.

There are 13 steps to the WUP process outlined in the Provincial WUP guidelines:

  • Initiate a WUP process for the particular facility.

  • Scope the water use issues and interests.

  • Determine the consultation process to be followed and initiate it.

  • Confirm the issues and interests in terms of specific water use objectives.

  • Gather additional information on the impacts of water flows on each objective.

  • Create operating alternatives for regulating water use to meet different interests.

  • Assess the tradeoffs between operating alternatives in terms of the objectives.

  • Determine the document and areas of consensus and disagreement.

  • Prepare a draft WUP and submit it to the Comptroller for regulatory review.

  • Review the draft plan and issue a provincial decision.

  • Review the authorised WUP and issue a Federal decision.

  • Monitor compliance with the authorised WUP.

  • Review the plan on a periodic ongoing basis.

One company obviously affected by the introduction of WUPs is Canadian utility, BC Hydro. The company is one of the largest power produces in North America, with more than 90% of its electricity generated by water powering turbines at 30 hydroelectric facilities (ranging in size from 2MW to 2730MW) on 27 watersheds around British Columbia.

The dams and reservoirs affect fish and wildlife habitat, cultural resources, recreation facilities and water levels. They also provide benefits in flood management and economic development. Because effective use of water is a fundamental part of the company’s success, BC Hydro claims to be highly committed to the WUP process.

‘It will help balance the need for power generation with the need to protect fish habitat,’ says BC Hydro president and CEO Michael Costello. ‘The process will also consider other needs such as recreation, flood control and commercial use.’

According to the company, water use planning supports its corporate mission to provide integrated energy solutions in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. Water use planning also helps meet BC Hydro’s objective to build and maintain public support by engaging external constituents – the public, regulators and shareholders – in a dialogue about options, trade-offs and priorities in operating its hydroelectric facilities.

Planning costs

But how will the introduction of WUPs to projects affect costs? Plan development costs will obviously be incurred preparing draft WUPs for BC Hydro facilities. The company’s costs are currently estimated at US$16.4M over five years and will be paid through the company’s capital expenditure budget.

WUP implementation costs are also likely to be incurred by constraining power generation, undertaking further studies, and/or employing mitigation measures at facilities which have implemented WUPs. Funding to implement BC Hydro’s water use plans will, however, be provided through an accounting mechanism (referred to as a system operations fund) to be financed through a reduction in water rental fees collected by government. Senior government scrutiny of implementation costs will also provide guidance on the power benefits to be traded off for non-power values (for example, revenue foregone in favour of improvements to fish habitat). To ensure the choices will add the most value to the province, the BC Hydro system will be considered as a whole. This system perspective may involve choices and trade offs across individual WUPs.

Ash river system

Despite these costs, in the next few years BC Hydro will develop WUPs for all its facilities. One currently in progress is at the Ash river hydroelectric facility. The Ash river is located within the regional district of Alberni-Clayoquot on Vancouver Island. The river flows south between Strathcona Park and the Beaufort mountain range into Elsie Lake, the Stamp and Somass rivers, and eventually into the Alberni Inlet.

The Elsie Lake reservoir, which is approximately 40km northwest of Port Alberni, was formed in 1958 by the construction of the main dam and four saddle dams at the eastern end of the reservoir. It covers approximately 75ha with a storage volume of 77M m3. Water flows 7.4km from an intake on the south side of the reservoir, through two tunnels and a penstock, to the 27MW Ash river power house located on the north shore of Great Central Lake. The Ash river power house produces on average 193MWh/yr,which is enough energy for about 19,000 homes.

BC Hydro formed a project team in May 2000 to support development of the Ash river WUP. The Ash river WUP committee is a group of individuals who represent a broad range of water use interests. Their diverse perspectives are essential for a successful WUP process. Sitting on the committee are members from First Nations, environmental organisations, government, industry, sports fishing and recreation groups, local residents and two corporate representatives from BC hydro. All 20 committee members carry equal authority and responsibility.

The WUP was publicly announced in September 2000 and, since then, a number of important steps have been accomplished at committee meetings in Port Alberni.

Presently, three of the 13 steps outlined in the provincial Water Use Plans are complete. These are:

  • Initiating the WUP for Ash river.

  • Outlining water use issues and interests in the area.

  • Determining the WUP consultative process.

The Ash river WUP committee is currently at step four of the process, which involves confirming the issues and interests in terms of specific water use objectives. The committee will then work to establish performance measures that will help gauge how well proposed operating alternatives satisfy its objectives.

A number of studies have been approved and initiated over the summer to fill some of the data gaps on the Ash System so the committee can make informed decisions. This will be helpful when the committee reviews alternative operating options as it sets out recommendations to be included in its report. This work is targeted for completion by Spring 2002.

Towards the end of the process, the Ash river WUP Committee will produce a consultation report putting forward recommendations for future operations developed by the committee members.

Using these recommendations, BC Hydro will draft a WUP that will outline the proposed future operating parameters for the facilities. Both the draft WUP and the consultation report will be submitted to the Provincial Comptroller of Water Rights for his review and acceptance. Once approved, the facilities will be operated in accordance with the recommended conditions accepted by the Comptroller. The process is likely to be completed by the end of 2002.

WUPs at such facilities are seen by British Columbians to be an important step in successful water management. As former Environment, Lands and Parks Minister, Joan Sawicki says: ‘Water use plans will help hydro operations take into account the environmental, social and economic impacts on the resource and help balance the need to provide water for power and water for fish.’
Related Articles
Spotlight on… Canada